Nigeria: Tasks for New Education Minister

Professor Tahir Mamman is Nigeria’s incoming Minister of Education.

Development Diaries reports that Mamman is one of President Bola Tinubu’s 48 ministerial nominees recently screened by the country’s senate.

The professor of law, currently the Vice-chancellor of Baze University, Abuja, is taking charge of the ministry when the country is faced with numerous educational issues, including that of basic education.

Nigeria is among the top three countries –  alongside India and Pakistan – with the most children and youths excluded from education, and the majority of these children (over 60 percent) are girls.

Out-of-school children 

As of 2022, Africa’s most populous country had about 20 million out-of-school children and youths, according to a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) report, with former Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, admitting his failure to turn things around.

Nigeria’s legislation currently provides for nine years of free and compulsory education, which is from primary education up to junior secondary school three (JSS3). However, children who wish to continue their education up to senior secondary level have to pay school fees, which, unfortunately, many Nigerian families cannot afford. This is one of the reasons the country’s out-of-school numbers keep growing.

Come to think of it, many countries, including Kenya and Tanzania, have amended legislation and developed policies that increase the right to safe, free, quality education from nine to 12 years.

Data from World Education News and Reviews (WENR) shows that in 2003, the government of Kenya instituted free primary education for all programmes, and then did the same for secondary education in 2008. This resulted in nearly three million more students being enrolled in primary school in 2012 than in 2003 and the number of schools grew by 7,000. So what is stopping Nigeria from adopting this policy?

Less than 15 percent annual budget

Another problem is poor funding. This is a major problem identified by education-focused civil society organisations (CSOs) and development partners in the country, with the annual monetary allocation to the sector usually less than the minimum 15 percent recommended by UNESCO.

For example, Nigeria is the second richest country in Africa, but it spends less in percentage terms (8.2 percent) on education than all but one (Somalia) of the ten poorest countries in the continent. This speaks volumes about the extent to which the country prioritises education. 

‘Nigeria is the giant of Africa, we need to lead better, we need to match our words with action’, the Executive Director of YouthHub Africa and Malala Fund Education Champion, Rotimi Olawale, said at the National Moment for Basic and Senior Secondary Education in April 2023.

‘What we have seen is that funding is not well utilised, so we want to see better value for money, at various levels, at the federal level and state level, gender responsiveness in the budgeting process, we want to see citizens’ participation in the budgeting process and we want government to increase their budgeting and financing’.

Attack on schools 

Another issue is insecurity. The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack counted at least 21 attacks on schools in the country between 2020 and 2021.

Nigeria adopted the global Safe Schools Declaration in 2019 after endorsing it in March 2015. Based on this proclamation, the nation is required to implement programmes and policies to stop attacks on schools, respond to them, and combat assault and impunity.

But the federal government failed to implement the emergency initiative aimed at improving access and quality of education for more than 40 million children.

Achieving the country’s education commitments will require a substantial increase in funding, which is one of the three key ‘asks’ of education CSOs for the Tinubu administration. The other two are fund more, fund better; and make schools safe for all children.

UBEC funding setback 

The federal government cannot do this alone as education, by virtue of Nigeria’s constitution, is on the concurrent list. In fact, state governments in the country have the lion’s share of education responsibility, but many of them are also failing to provide adequate funding for the sector as reported by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC).

Presenting the 2022 capital budget implementation report for UBEC, acting Secretary of the commission, Bala Zakari, revealed that state governments failed to access over N46.2 billion in grants for the development of public primary and junior secondary schools in the country. To access allocated UBEC funds, states must match the grant amount available, up to at least 50 percent.

Development Diaries calls on the new minister, Mamman, to adopt the Civil Society Manifesto on Education demanding 12 years of free, compulsory, safe and quality education for all; improved funding; and secure schools.

We also call on the minister to work towards ensuring the amendment of the UBE Act to include a monitoring mechanism and a results-based framework that provides additional resources to states that meet certain deliverables in educational outcomes.


About the Author